5 actions Orlando may take to build new affordable housing, rehab existing units

A shortage of affordable housing units is growing in Central Florida, a region where the economy is driven in large part by low-income workers who power the booming tourism industry.

Affordable housing units are defined as those whose rent and utilities are cheaper than 30 percent of a household’s income.

In 2016, the most recent year of statistics available from the U.S. Census Bureau, about 45 percent of Orlando residents pay at least 30 percent of their income on housing and utilities.

On Monday, the Orlando City Council will consider five items pertaining to creating additional affordable housing and extending the life of existing units. At least 415 units will be affected by the decisions.

“This is a nationwide issue and unfortunately Orlando isn’t immune to that,” Orlando Director of Economic Development Brooke Bonnett said. “We have to increase inventory in order to accommodate all price points.”

Orange Center Boulevard

Six city-owned parcels along Orange Center Boulevard — home to abandoned and dilapidated structures — could soon see affordable and mixed-income units developed on the land.

Orlando is opening up the nearly 5-acre property for proposals Monday in hopes of spurring ideas from developers for the narrow strip on the south side of the road in the Clear Lake neighborhood.

“What we’re most interested in is achieving a development that complements the surrounding neighborhood,” Bonnett said. “The good news is there’s a lot of really creative people out there.”

How many units are built there remains to be seen, she said. Current zoning allows for at least 94 units to be built, said Cassandra Lafser, a spokeswoman for Mayor Buddy Dyer.

Developers could opt for high-rise style housing that could squeeze more units, such as at nearby Pendana at West Lakes, where about 8,000 people inquired about 201 units when it opened earlier this year.

With how narrow the property is, townhouses may also be possible, which could keep the number of units in the 20s.

“We think that area is ripe for mixed-income development,” city Director of Housing and Community Development Oren Henry said. “That’s a really convenient location. We’re kind of curious to see what the market will come back with as a response.”

Proposals are due Dec. 14, but if none reach the city’s standards officials may not move forward.

Carver Park

At Carver Park, investment by Orlando’s Community Redevelopment Agency could help finally finish the long-sought project and also bring more homeownership opportunities to Parramore, Downtown Development Board Director Thomas Chatmon said.

For years, the Orlando Housing Authority has worked with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to build affordable rental and homeownership units.

However, when expensive work to clean up some of the land was needed as well as the recession that started in late 2007, the third phase was put on the back burner. In all, plans called for more than 80 homeownership units to be built there, but about half of them fall within the redevelopment area’s boundaries on the east side of Westmoreland Drive.

Now the agency has reached a deal with the housing authority to finish the job, which would bring 41 homeownership units to Carver Park.

“There’s been no meaningful homeownership initiative initiated in Parramore in quite some time,” Chatmon said. “You’ve got to have people there who own it, and insist on keeping it clean and safe.”

Of the units, six will be single-family homes with the rest as townhomes. HUD requires 13 to 19 units to be set aside for households that don’t exceed 80 percent of the median income.

Costs are not yet known, Chatmon said.

Peppertree Circle Apartments

On Mercy Drive, officials recommend the council reward property to a developer called Blue Sky Communities. The company plans to build 116 units of multi-family and permanent supportive units — specifically designed for the chronically homeless.

The permanent supportive housing is thought to be the first such project within the city limits and would have an organization called CASL on site to provide services to the residents.

“The way to eradicate homelessness is to provide homes,” Chatmon said. “The supportive piece is the key piece around it.”

The committee that went through the bids preferred Blue Sky’s plan because it had the most units, highest development cost with the highest land payment to the city — $1.5 million, the agenda item reads.

If approved, the deal is expected to close late next year and be finished by 2021.

Upgrading aging units

Another project before the council calls for upgrading electrical systems at Hope Square Apartments on Orange Center Boulevard.

In all, 38 units would benefit from the work, which would be done with federal Community Development Block Grant funding.

“We saw this as a great preservation of an affordable housing project,” Henry said. “The units are in good shape.”

The property is at peak capacity, Henry said. Work is expected to be complete by next summer.

Rehab project

Part of battling the shortage of affordable housing is preserving and extending the life of existing units, officials said.

At aging New Palm Grove Gardens off WD Judge Drive east of Mercy Drive, railings no longer met city code, and other updates were needed. So the council is being asked to extend a deadline on the work until June 30, 2019.

Such work could keep the complex usable for 20 to 30 years, Henry said.

“That’s half the battle with these affordable units,” he said. “We have to make new ones, but we can’t afford to lose any of the old ones.”

Have a news tip? You can call Ryan at 407-420-5002, email him at rygillespie@orlandosentinel.com, follow him on Twitter @byryangillespie and like his coverage on Facebook @byryangillespie.

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